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Updated: Governor Orders Evacuation of Several Barrier Islands as Hurricane Irma Looms
The latest on hurricane preparations in South Carolina (all times local):
BEAUFORT -- County Sheriff P. J. Tanner said the barrier island order to evacuate took into account the four King Tides that will be occurring, from Sunday through Monday, when Hurricane Irma brings an expected four to six feet of storm surge and upwards of 10 inches of rain to the area.
"We expect tree damage probably a little worse than we had in Hurricane Matthew," Tanner said. "A loss of power and the loss of water."
Hotels on Hilton Head will close, but some will remain open in Bluffton. Tolls on the Cross Island Expressway have been suspended.
Two shelters will open on Sunday at 9 a.m. at Battery Creek High School and Bluffton High School. Both schools are approved to withstand tropical storm force winds.
Even with the diminished threat, Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett gave a collective sigh of relief for South Carolina residents.
"I think we can all be grateful that most of our state has been spared of the potential impact of Hurricane Irma," Bennett said. "I think we can be in prayer for those in Florida that are currently in harm’s way."
WEST COLUMBIA -- Gov. Henry McMaster issued an evacuation order for several barrier islands in Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties effective Saturday at 10 a.m. View the barrier islands on this map.
Daufuskie, Fripp, Harbor, Hunting and Hilton Head.
Knowles and Tullifiny
No lanes will be reversed at this time, but plans are in place to activate reversals if needed.
The mandatory evacuation order only pertains to those barrier islands. Tropical storm strength winds, heavy rainfall, and four to six feet of storm surge as a result of Hurricane Irma, John Quagrliariello, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, said.
"The forecast track indicates Irma moving northwest across Georgia while weakening," Quagrliariello said. "This is good new for South Carolina, but the state will still experience impacts form Irma as it will be a large storm as it passes to the west."
CHARLESTON -- Though tourists and residents in the Holy City were enjoying what seemed to be a typical Friday night, with temperate weather and a setting sun, a few boarded-up houses and sandbags in front of businesses' doors served as reminders of Hurricane Irma's lurking threat.
Pastel clad, students--who enjoyed a day off from classes--could be seen in a golf cart driving down Broad Street, passing women in dresses walking small dogs as young families biked nearby.
The clomping of horse hooves revealed still full carriages of tourists snapping photos of picturesque Rainbow Row--albeit with one or two windows boarded up. Down along the blustery Battery, only a few multi-million dollar, historic views were obscured by tastefully appointed sheets of plywood.
Strong winds and heavy rain will hit the peninsula, courtesy of the tempest named Irma, churning hundreds of miles south near Florida, on Sunday and Monday.
Gov. Henry McMaster will hold a press conference at 6 p.m. at the South Carolina Emergency Management Division headquarters in West Columbia with state officials. He is expected to announce whether or not there is a need for evacuations of all or some of the state's coastal counties.
Horry County remains at operating condition (OPCON) 4. "With its current track, Horry County can expect to see up to five inches of rain, minor coastal flooding and rough surf with possible rip currents," according to a press release. "There is also an elevated chance of tornadoes late Sunday into early Monday morning. Low lying and flood prone areas could be in jeopardy of seeing some level of overflow."
NORTH CHARLESTON -- Cathy Haynes, Chief of Operations at Charleston County Emergency Management Department, said at a press briefing that the tri-county area is still “not out of the woods” when it comes to Hurricane Irma.
“We are still within that cone of error that they show you on there,” Haynes. “I know the line looks like it’s going through Georgia and up that way, but we could still feel impacts of this storm in the Charleston County coastal area.”
Charleston and Dorchester counties have moved to OPCON 2. Berkeley County will upgrade to OPCON 1 on Saturday. The operating conditions indicate levels of readiness, operations and preparations.
Dorchester County Council passed an emergency resolution today so the county can implement a curfew if needed. The county also ran out of sandbags in an hour today.
WEST COLUMBIA -- There remains no evacuation order for coastal residents at this time, according to Gov. Henry McMaster.
That decision could possibly change at a 6 p.m. press conference. If the governor does order an evacuation, it could be for only a portion of the coast. The decision will be based upon the 5 p.m. Hurricane Irma forecast from the National Hurricane Center.
"We're delaying the final decision on evacuation orders until after we receive more information about the hurricane," McMaster said. Irma's track is no longer directly threatening the state, though it will feel some of the storm's effects.
"Everyone is still in place," McMaster said. "We haven’t budged."
McMaster said there is no longer a need for a statewide order to close schools early next week. Those decisions will be made locally as well the closure of county offices, which also dictates the closure of state offices in those counties.
McMaster rescinded the evacuation order of medical facilities in Berkeley, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties. The order, which affects hospitals and nursing homes, remains in effect for Beaufort and Jasper counties.
John Quagrliariello, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, said that Hurricane Irma's track will bring the storm through Florida and Georgia, lessening its potential impacts on South Carolina. Quagrliariello said the forecast could still change and the state is still on guard.
"This track will bring less significant impacts to the state," Quagrliariello said. "The heaviest rain and highest threat for tornadoes is on the right side of the track. Any shift to the east, which is certainly possible as the storm is still three days out, would bring much greater impacts to the area. In terms of impacts, even with the track, storm surge inundation of low lying coastal areas is likely along central and southern portions of the South Carolina coast due to persistent strong on shore winds and higher than normal tide levels."
There's no current estimate of how high storm surge could be.
The strongest winds from the storm will be south and west of Interstate 26 and will likely lead to power outages. Significant amounts of rainfall are also possible and could lead to flash floods and minor to moderate river flooding.
2,400 S.C. National Guard members are currently activated.
S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said an additional 90,000 vehicles have been traveling across the state's interstates, especially I-95 where traffic remains heavy, but moving.
Motorists who need travel assistance can call SCDOT at 1-855-467-2368. Traffic conditions can be monitored at 511sc.org.
CHARLESTON -- The South Carolina Ports Authority said conditions will allow it to operate on normal hours. "Based on current projections, the conditions in Charleston are expected to allow safe operations," SCPA said in a statement. "Normal gate hours and vessel operations will continue, and all SCSPA facilities will remain open until further notice."
COLUMBIA -- Gov. Henry McMaster and state officials called a 2 p.m. press conference to provide an update on the potential effects of Hurricane Irma. There is still no evacuation order in South Carolina.
FOLLY BEACH -- Businesses remain open on Folly Island, though some have taken the precaution of boarding up windows, and plenty of shoppers and tourists were still out enjoying cool and sunny weather Friday.
Beachwear and Gifts shop manager Teri Kratz put displays and racks of vibrant colored tank tops in front of boarded up windows on Center Street Friday morning. She said people are aware of the hurricane, but aren’t in a rush to leave.
“The tourists are hanging in to the last minute and enjoying as much as they can before they head out of town,” Kratz said. “As of this morning it looks like we’re in pretty good shape, hopefully, if nothing changes.”
A native of the Charleston area, Kratz said she will ride out whatever effects of Irma come her way on Folly Beach. She was encouraged by recent forecasts that show the Category 4 storm avoiding a direct hit of South Carolina.
“Now that it’s shifted, you know a little bit and we’re not looking at a head-on hit, people are starting to relax a little bit,” Kratz said. “But not being complacent. They’re still prepared.”
Around the island, pickup trucks, SUVs and cars with racks for surf boards dotted the two-lane Artic Avenue that runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean where five to seven-foot swells brought out flocks of surfers.
Surfers said such consistent, big waves are rare for Folly Beach and many will be taking advantage of them as conditions permit.
Few ocean-front houses along the beach, behind shallow and wide dunes, were boarded up, despite forecasts for tropical storm-force winds of 40 mph up to 65 mph Sunday through Tuesday. The storm system is also predicted to dump five to eight inches of rain in the Charleston area.
Storm surge, however, put Christian Schlebach on a plane from Rhode Island to Charleston earlier this week to prepare his Huckins yacht at Sunset Cay Marina. His yacht has survived Hurricane Sandy—when it was docked in New Jersey—and Hurricane Matthew last October. He hopes it will make it through anything Irma throws this way.
“If it goes more west, I’m probably going to sit tight and play the rain game,” Schlebach said. “If we get a lot of surge like they’re forecasting, I might just pull the boat out of here and go anchor it. You never know, this thing is calling all pockets right now.”
The slips were still full at the marina at the southern tip of Folly on Friday, but some may anchor their boats away from the harbor, if storm surge threatens to unmoor the marina.
“I kind of think there’s a sense of calm right now because this thing went a bit west. I think we’re just standing by and it will be all-hands-on-deck tomorrow afternoon, depending on where this goes. If it makes an easterly turn,,it will be a catch-up kind of game for the boats.”
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources urged boat owners to secure their boats.
“If it is not possible to remove the boat from the water and secure it, add extra ropes and tie the boat to several different places on the dock to keep cleats from pulling out,” a SCDNR press release said. “It is a good idea to add ropes to floating docks that are old and/or not sturdy to keep them from breaking away. Also, inspect the ropes to make sure they are in good condition.”
Grocery stores on nearby James Island remain stocked, gas stations still have gas with no lines and traffic continues to flow normally in the area.
Charleston County will have a 3 p.m. press conference to provide an update on Irma preparations.
Residents in South Carolina who have questions about Hurricane Irma can now call the state’s toll-free hotline 1-866-246-0133. Operators with the Public Information Phone System (PIPS) are available 24 hours a day for as long as is needed.
The state Emergency Operations Center is fully activated at Operating Condition Three, as state agencies prepare for any possible effects from Hurricane Irma. OPCON 3 ensures the appropriate specific hazard emergency plans are activated and ready, should an emergency situation be imminent.